By: Sarah Steele
Jesus said to her [Martha], ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?’ So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, ‘Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.’ When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!’ The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go.
- John 11:40-44
Last week, we talked about responding to un-Christianly Christians. I recommended several approaches, including: “Have patience, even if someone’s actions are harming your walk or ministry. We never know what others are struggling to let go.”
Most of us have heard the story of Lazarus, but a sermon my father preached on John 11 has stayed with me. At the time, I was co-leading a youth class through Bishop Job’s “Three Simple Rules: A Wesleyan Way of Living.” We focused on actions they could take in school to live out rules like “Do No Harm” and “Do Good.”
In John 11, we find a group of people who are doubtful; some criticized Jesus for not coming to Lazarus sooner, some blamed him for not saving his friend, and others doubted Christ's relationship with God. However, Jesus didn’t admonish or blame them. Instead, he does something incredible. Yes, he raises Lazarus from the dead, but then he turns to the crowd and instructs, “Unbind him, and let him go.”
Those six words are critical, because in that moment Jesus invites the crowd to be in ministry with Him. Christ resurrected Lazarus, but it is this group of doubters who are tasked with freeing Lazarus from his bindings so that he may live his new life.
I wonder how many people we see who are still wearing their burial clothes? I wonder how many people whose clothes are there because others – including me – refuse to aid in their removal?
God is always resurrecting. Though a person’s faith story may be invisible to us, God is at work. He even invites us into that process. He intersects our lives with people whose feet and hands are still bound, though often we are too blind to look past their old spiritual rags to see their new life in God. But, this inability to help others remove the constrictions of their past isn’t compatible with “do good.” And done intentionally or not, ignoring God’s ability to resurrect someone from a spiritually dead life is harmful.
We never know what word or deed will ‘free’ another. So, before you gossip about the unmarried mother visiting your church, consider how nervous she may be, how she is trying to do what’s best for her child. Before you label a young man a hypocrite for coming to Sunday School when you know he partied it up in college, remember that he may have changed.
God will nudge you when you meet someone wearing burial clothes. Don’t judge them. Don’t assume you know their story. Don’t force them to fit a stereotype. Don’t cookie-cutter them into your definition of an ‘ideal Christian.’ Don’t ignore them. Instead, be aware of the moment when God – after doing the heavy task of resurrection – is turning to you and saying, “Unbind my child, and let them be the person they are yearning to be. Let them go be the person I created.”
Can you think of someone whose burial cloth is still in place because of your actions?
What are some actions or habits that may prevent you from assisting God’s renewal process for people in your faith community?
Have you ever had someone help you remove your burial cloth? If so, what did they say or do to help you?